When you reflect on your childhood, do you recall feeling pressured to eat a certain food or meal? For me, it was meatloaf. I instantly knew when I asked my mom what’s for dinner and she said meatloaf, that is was going to be a terrible night. My mom didn’t make meatloaf very often, but when she did, I was expected to eat it. I hated it, and usually just nibbled a tiny bite or two before declaring that I was all done. But, my mom would make my sister and I sit at the table until we finished our meatloaf. Wow, those were some long nights! And I remember sitting at the table, crying and pleading to be done. To this day, I don’t make meatloaf or eat meatloaf.
This is a prime example of negative feeding pressure. According to Ellyn Satter, negative feeding pressure can be “restricting certain foods or amounts of food, punishing, shaming, withholding, forcing, threatening, coaxing, or begging.”*
I also remember a time as a child when I was asked to try a green smoothie. I drank some and, surprisingly, was not averse to the flavor or texture! But my mom was so excited that I accepted this green drink, telling me how great it was to like such a healthy beverage, that I didn’t want it anymore. Now, I can recognize that this was an example of positive feeding pressure, which is characterized by “encouraging, reminding, rewarding, cheering or telling the child how good and healthy the food is for them.”*
As parents, our good intentions (clapping, being overly expressive and excited when your child takes a bite) often backfire and can be just as detrimental to feeding and developing feeding trust as when we get frustrated and try to exhibit a more authoritative approach to meals (i.e., insisting that a food is eaten or that your child eat more even when it is clearly causing the child distress). According to Ellyn Satter, 90% of parents pressure their children to eat and 50% of children have feeding problems. “Trying to get your child to eat more results in them eating less. Trying to get them to eat less results in them eating more. Trying to get them to eat certain foods, results in them avoiding it altogether.”*
Looking back at my childhood, there were really only of few instances that I now realize were pressured feeding situations. However, children with feeding difficulties can encounter this pressure at every meal and snack. Feeding pressure – positive or negative – interferes with the child’s ability to learn to accept new foods. So, parents need to be intentional in adopting a neutral tone at every eating opportunity. Present the food, and allow your child to explore it on his own terms. The more neutral the environment, the more trust your child will build around feeding, which in turn leads to increased repertoire of accepted foods and increased volume of food consumed.
Lisa Grentz, MS, RD, CD, Dietitian
*The Ellyn Satter Institute. (2019). Retrieved May 25, 2019 at https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org./positive-or-negative-it’s-still-pressure/